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Here's another: If the season ended today, which trophy would you give Brooks? The Butkus Award, as the country's best linebacker, which he has indisputably been to date? Or—sorry, Charlie Ward—the Heisman? After all, with three touchdowns in four games, the most recent of which was a 49-yard interception return last Saturday night during the Seminoles' 33-7 drubbing of North Carolina, Brooks has outscored his team's four opponents 18-14. By himself.
Florida State fans fretting over the loss of Marvin (Shade Tree) Jones, who won the Butkus last year as a junior but then split for the NFL, can ease their minds. So far Brooks, who played in Shade Tree's shadow last fall, has more than kept up with the Jones. His statistics are a veritable chronicle of havoc. In addition to the three TDs, Brooks has 33 tackles (including five for losses), two fumbles forced and two recovered, two interceptions, four pass breakups and a blocked punt.
Brooks was recruited out of Pensacola's Washington High as a strong safety and has since put on 22 pounds—he is now 6'1", 225 pounds—while somehow becoming faster. He runs a 4.4-second 40 and bench-presses 440 pounds. He does some heavy lifting in the classroom, too, carrying a 3.0 GPA.
He has been so spectacular that his coaches feel compelled to note that Brooks is mortal. "He makes his share of mistakes," says Jim Gladden, the Seminoles' outside-linebacker coach. "But he turns most of 'em into big plays." Gladden adds that Brooks is no Marvin Jones. Whereas Jones ran through blockers, "Derrick," says Gladden, "slithers over and around people to get to the ball." Brooks also specializes in messing up goal line offenses. His midair collision with Kansas running back George White during the Seminoles' 42-0 win in the Kickoff Classic highlighted an extraordinary goal line stand. Two weeks later, before he scooped up a fumble and ran it back 83 yards for the Seminoles' final TD against Clemson, Brooks preserved another goose egg. The Tigers had third-and-goal from the one, and tailback Rodney Blunt got the call. "It was me and him in the alley," said Brooks, who put Blunt on his back.
The next day, as the Seminole linebackers reviewed the game film of the 57-0 victory, Gladden froze the video on the goal line play. Did Brooks realize, the coach asked him, that he had been out of position when he made the hit on Blunt?
"I saw the ball, so I went after it," said Brooks.
"I mean, what do you say to that?" says Gladden.
Our suggestion: not a thing.